Mirabai Chanu and Manipur’s sporting prowess
Mirabai Chanu’s silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics was not unexpected, but it was a joyous moment when it happened nonetheless. Chanu, who comes from a farming village near Imphal, has been one of the world’s best weightlifters in her category, 49kg, for some time now. She has won a world championship and holds the world record in one of the Olympics lifts, the clean & jerk. The Olympic silver simply adds to the aura and signals, yet again, the pioneering path forged by athletes from Manipur.
Kunjarani Devi, the woman who inspired Chanu, was India’s first medallist at the world weightlifting championship. She won a silver in 1989, at a time when being a woman weightlifter in India was almost unheard of. Devi inspired, and continues to inspire, generations of aspiring athletes to take up the sport in India. MC Mary Kom did the same with boxing — opening the way for women to get into a fighting sport and dream of big medals. Six world titles and an Olympic medal later, she is still fighting, in Tokyo. From the late Dingko Singh to Sarita Devi, and an assembly line of hockey and football players, Manipur has an outsized influence on the Indian sporting scene.
Much of that has to do with the love for sport and the sporting culture of the state. Yet, Manipur’s sporting infrastructure is below par, even compared to the usual less-than-ideal standards everywhere in India. Some states have, in the past decade, started to tap into sporting culture and encourage its development. Haryana has done that with boxing and wrestling at the grassroots. Odisha has done so with hockey and athletics and built world class infrastructure. Karnataka has some of the finest sporting institutes in India now. Manipur would do well to embrace its unique sporting identity and nurture it in a truly ambitious manner.